Jewish World Review Oct. 9, 2003 / 13 Tishrei, 5763

Low-cost PC a sum of its universal parts; cursor disappears when surfing 'Net

By James Coates | (KRT) Q. In a recent quick tip you mentioned the Medion brand computer. I have a Medion and like it very much. Before I purchased it, I tried to obtain some sort of rating.

Can you please give me your opinion regarding this brand of computer?

A. Medion AG, based in Germany, serves as an exemplar for a bit of wisdom all computer shoppers should heed even if they don't buy one of Medion's inexpensive PCs or laptops.

Like your Aunt Mabel's Toll House chocolate chip cookies, what goes into her batch goes into those of everybody else who buys a bag of Toll House chips.

Whether they are from IBM, Dell, Gateway, eMachines or Hewlett Packard, personal computers are machines that get patched together with parts from a variety of vendors all over the planet. The core microprocessor comes from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices; the hard drive probably is built by Seagate Technology, Western Digital Corp. or Maxtor Corp.; the video card by ATI Technologies Inc., Matrox Electronic Systems or Nvidia Corp.; and memory chips come from Taiwan, Korea or elsewhere. Even the cases are made by a handful of contractors called OEMs, for original equipment manufacturers.

What you really buy when you get a Dell, Gateway or the others is the backing of the company that slapped its logo on the box. And therein lies Medion's genius--or maybe its madness. All the other companies I mentioned create a line of product models, assemble them, slap on warranties and branded software and then follow up older products with new members of the line. This requires the company to continually scour parts markets to get the best prices. Sometimes prices are high and profits drop. Sometimes prices drop and the margins sweeten for the PC-maker.

Medion, however, doesn't make continual product lines for a great many of its offerings. Instead the company waits until prices for the components get to the bottom, then rushes out to snap up enough to create a batch of computers. They then put them on pallets and ship them to sellers like Best Buy, Costco and the Aldi chain of discount food stores. Finally, the assembly lines shut down to await the next burst of bargains.

It is, in fact, called burst marketing.

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My experience with Medions has been great. The company does maintain a technical support staff for its past lines for a reasonable period, although like the others, the company tries to get the customer to do the work by using all kinds of online aid instead of direct access to a human.

It boils down to a somewhat difficult decision. Do you want the comfort of a long-entrenched company with tested product lines, or do you want to take a flier on Medion's burst tactics and hope for the best?

So far with Medion, it's been good.

Q. First let me say how surprising it is that so many people share the same software annoyances. Well, now it's my turn to ask for your help. Recently, the cursor has been disappearing while I, or a member of the family, browse the Internet. Any ideas as to how I can put a stop to this? I run Windows 98 and my Web browser is Internet Explorer 6. Your help will be greatly appreciated.

Ralph Morris, Reynoldsburg, Ohio

A. Speaking of a lot of people sharing a problem, I can tell you that there are a lot of possible reasons and fixes for this disappearing-cursor problem. Let's start with the possibility that the author of a Web page wrote the underlying HTML code to actually make the cursor disappear when it moves over certain parts of a page. Tapping the Control key, which makes the cursor appear, usually can thwart this.

Another possible issue is that your video card is making the cursor move so fast that you cannot see it. This can be dealt with by slowing down the speed that the cursor adopts when you move the mouse. It is fixed by making changes in the mouse control panel, which is reached in Windows 98 by clicking on Start and Settings and Control Panel.

If your mouse has fancy attributes, the control panel might be more complex than the basic one, but look for a tab called Motion. There will be a slider bar to slow down or speed up that rodent. Make it real slow and see if that's your fix.

Also on that same control panel is usually a check box that lets you order the mouse to leave a trail of gradually fading copies of the cursor as the it moves across the screen. This quite often will make a cursor visible when glitches stop the display of just a single icon.

Finally, if you have a conventional mouse with the small rubber ball on the bottom, it may be dust and lint causing the internal wiring to lose contact and thus lose the display. Removing the little cover over the ball and wiping the ball with a clean cloth and checking the contacts inside for lint can fix this.

Q. I have Windows XP Home Edition with an extra hard drive that had Windows 98 on it. I formatted the drive to use it as a backup. In doing so, it formatted as a FAT (file allocation table) drive. I tried to back up my C drive, and found that it would only back up about 3.9 gigabytes. I went back to reformat it using the more efficient New Technology File System.

Now I get a message that "Windows cannot format this drive. Quit any disk utilities or other programs that are using this drive, and make sure that no window is displaying the contents of the drive. Then try formatting again." I have tried to follow the instructions, but keep getting the same message.

Jim Politis

A. Hit Control + Alt + Delete on that XP machine and you'll get a box that shows a long line of applications and what are called processes that get activated each time the machine is switched on. These are modules that run in the background to do stuff like activate commands, watch the time, monitor system performance, and create the system tray where important software is displayed.

One or more of these modules or programs is keeping continual tabs on that jury-rigged hard drive you added. The format software will not permit erasing a drive while it is in use.

Most likely you can get around the problem by starting your computer in Safe Mode, a bare-bones version of the operating system with most background process and start-up applications not running. Then the format commands should work.

XP users can invoke Safe Mode by tapping the F8 key shortly after booting up. If you can't find the right timing to hit F8, you can put a floppy disk in its drive and wait for the computer to give an illegal disk message and stop booting. Then remove the floppy, hit Return and bang on F8.

If this doesn't work you probably should take it to an expert who can boot the computer up using a floppy disk called a system disk and then create the format you need using the complex Fdisk routines built into Microsoft DOS.

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James Coates is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Let us know what you think of this column by clicking here.


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